Reviews and Comments

el dang

Joined 2 years, 2 months ago


I'm currently the coordinator of the #SFFBookClub so a lot of what I'm reading is suggestions from there.

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Dracula (Hardcover, 2011, Penguin Classics) 3 stars

Compelling, atmospheric, and very very intensely flawed

3 stars

First of all: I read this in form. I highly recommend this approach because the pacing in real time adds a lot of tension. But it does also mean that I didn't read it in exactly the order that the author put the text in.

In some ways this is a great book. There's a reason why Stoker's vision of the vampire has become so dominant in pop culture. And the format--a series of letters and journal entries--works very well, even if sometimes one has to suspend disbelief about how the characters found time to write thousands of words on the most action-packed days.

But it's also deeply flawed in ways that reflect very poorly on the author. It's super racist and very sexist--even by the low standards of the era it was written in--and Stoker insisted on writing various accents even though he was terrible at that, and …

Ducks (GraphicNovel, 2022, Drawn & Quarterly) 5 stars

Before there was Kate Beaton, New York Times bestselling cartoonist of Hark! A Vagrant, there …

A deeply human look at a thoroughly dehumanising place

5 stars

This is a powerful memoir which has a lot to say about how we (particularly Canada as a resource extraction colony, but also a broader "we") treat the people whose physical labour runs parts of the economy we'd rather not think about. The experience turned out predictably badly for Beaton, but in looking back she maintained empathy for the people involved, keeping a clear on focus on what the context of oil sands work camps does to people.

This Is How You Lose the Time War (2020) 4 stars

This Is How You Lose the Time War is a 2019 science fiction epistolary novel …

Weird and beautiful but not always up to its own ambition

4 stars

The letters that make up about half of this book are gorgeously written, and I love the story they tell. The basic idea of the time war is clever, and the descriptions of placetimes the characters find themselves in evocative, sometimes reminiscent of Calvino's Invisible Cities. I devoured this book in a few days.

And yet... something about it felt a little thin or hollow behind its fireworks. I think it was a good artistic choice to leave all technical details out, but I couldn't help but get hung up on the time paradoxes. Not that it's the authors' responsibility to necessarily avoid or solve them, but for me personally they intruded on the suspension of disbelief.

Four Hundred Souls (2021, One World) 5 stars

A chorus of extraordinary voices comes together to tell one of history’s great epics: the …

Powerful collection that complicates the arc of history

5 stars

This is a collection of 80 short essays each by a different writer, each anchored to a consecutive 5-year span, starting with the first documented landing of enslaved Africans in the North American colonies.

The range of voices is a huge strength, with each writer not only having a different style but getting to make dramatically different choices in where to focus attention. Individually, many of the essays filled in gaps in my knowledge, but the whole is much more than the sum of those parts. It helps the book really live up to its "community history" billing - while of course even 80 authors can't speak for a whole community of millions, they can get a lot closer to that than any one alone could.

As should be expected given the subject matter, many of the pieces are very heavy and grim. Certainly some of the things I learned …

She Who Became the Sun (2021, Tor Books) 4 stars

To possess the Mandate of Heaven, the female monk Zhu will do anything

Mulan meets …

Epic in every sense

5 stars

I love this book for being an alternate history that's not fixated on Hitler. I love it for how carefully it weaves its fantasy into the real history it's anchored in - enough so that as soon as I finished reading it I had to read up on the actual Red Turban rebellion and see how many of the characters were close adaptations. I love it for how much desperate, furious, and yes sometimes joyous life its main characters have. I love it for how viscerally it evokes some incredibly hard times (though be warned, it's a heavy read because of that). I love it for how utterly unsympathetic all the "big people" are.

Around the middle of the book the weight of Fate on both the plot and multiple characters' obsessions started to feel stifling, but the more the narrator complicated that idea the more this stopped being a …

A Closed and Common Orbit (Paperback, 2017, Hodder & Stoughton) 4 stars

Once, Lovelace had eyes and ears everywhere. She was a ship's artificial intelligence system - …

made me cry more than once

5 stars

I absolutely adored this book. I realise that part of this is that it was a perfect little escape while I was stuck at home with covid, but I do also think it's really wonderful.

It has some similar strengths to the first in the series, in that it's mostly about the relationships between a few outcast characters that become a chosen family and just happen to be in space. But if anything I think it's better written (I guess Chambers getting into her stride with book 2), and benefits from being a more focussed story of a smaller number of characters. And has some weightier things to say about embodiment, the tension between fitting in and freedom, and loyalty & reciprocity.

I am excited about the rest of the series.

Beowulf (2020, MCD x FSG Originals) 5 stars

Nearly twenty years after Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf—and fifty years after the translation that …

How does one review a millenium-old poem?

No rating

I guess in two halves. This translation is 97% wonderful, with the other 3% being occasional grating patches. It is the most alive and readable version I've read, and I think the stylistic choices Headley made all make sense, from the repeated exhortations of "bro" to the ways she works to treat the women of the story--especially Grendel's mother, but not only her--better than other translations I've read. Using the techniques of heavy alliteration and kenning compounds with all modern language really brings home how driving they can be, and the originals must have been when their vocabulary was current. Sometimes "bro" and "daddy" felt over-repeated, and then started to grate, but that really is an occasional glitch in a wonderful translation (and I wonder if I'd even have felt that if I'd listened to the poem rather than reading it, or read it more slowly instead of in …

Acceptance (2014, Macmillan) 4 stars

From the publisher---

It is winter in Area X, the mysterious wilderness that has defied …

Fitting end to an amazing series

4 stars

I don't think I liked this book quite as much as the previous two, but it still sucked me in and I'm not sure how better the trilogy could have been wrapped up. There are a lot of still unanswered questions at the end, which feels fitting but something about the style of this one felt like a tease, where the previous two volumes felt more convincingly like the answers simply weren't there to be had.

I still love and strongly recommend this trilogy overall.

The Lathe of Heaven (1973, Avon) 4 stars

“The Lathe of Heaven” ; 1971 ( Ursula Le Guin received the 1973 Locus Award …

Weirdest thing I've read by Le Guin

4 stars

It's funny how of all the books I've read by Le Guin, the one that's set on a baseline plausible Earth-in-my-lifetime would turn out to be the weirdest. Also funny how in what starts as a pretty reasonable extrapolation from 1971 to ~2000 has one repeated glaring error: multiple references to the perfect cone of Mount St. Helen's.

Against that background, we get a story of a man running away from his dreams because they give him a power he doesn't understand and can't control. And another man who wants to channel that power, setting up a modern Daoist fable about the hubris of trying to control too much.